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Red River Valley Fair ups grandstand game by doubling budget to $1.6 million for entertainers

“To get the bigger acts, you’ve got to pay for it," Cody Cashman, CEO of the RRVF Association, says about this year's lineup in West Fargo.

Tim McGraw on stage
Red River Valley Fair organizers expect Tim McGraw to sell out the 13,000-seat grandstands on Saturday night, July 9.
Forum Communications file photo
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WEST FARGO — Cody Cashman, CEO of the Red River Valley Fair Association, doesn’t mince words when talking about this year’s grandstand entertainers.

“It’s easily the best lineup we’ve ever had,” he says of the event which opens Friday, July 8, and runs through July 17.

He rattles off the headliners with excitement: Tim McGraw, 3 Doors Down, Jason Derulo, for King and Country, Tesla and more.

So what’s the secret to having its best lineup ever?

“We’re spending a lot more money,” he says.

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Cashman is living up to his name and putting his money — well, the RRVF’s money — where his mouth is, investing a record $1.6 million into booking acts for this year. The budget is more than doubled from last year’s $750,000.

“To get the bigger acts, you’ve got to pay for it. It’s the only way to do it,” he says.

3 Doors Down Band  (1).jpg
3 Doors Down headlines the first night of the Red River Valley Fair.
Contributed / Red River Valley Fair

Cashman started in May 2020 and one of his first official moves was to cancel that year’s event due to COVID.

While he wasn’t bringing in crowds that year, he was listening to what people wanted. The recurring complaint facing the fair over the last few years was that organizers weren’t bringing in big-name acts.
His answer to the problem — start charging for the concerts.

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In 2019 and years prior, grandstand shows were free with gate admission. That year the entertainment budget was between $300,000 and $350,000, Cashman says. In 2021, the RRVF board of directors more than doubled the budget to $750,000, and this year again the investment was more than doubled, up to $1.6 million.

Cashman won’t say how much of that $1.6 million is going to Tim McGraw, but he did say the singer is the highest-paid act on this year’s bill.

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Luke and Joel Smallbone of for King & Country.
Contributed / PFA Media

The investment seems to be paying off. Last year, country singer Chris Young was the biggest draw, selling about 7,500 tickets. Last week, with more than 10 days before the show, McGraw had already sold more tickets than that, and Cashman expected him to sell out the roughly 13,000-seat grandstand space.

Cashman says attendance records for shows before 2021 are unreilable since there were no tickets to count.

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Not bad for a show Cashman wasn’t sure he’d land. Initially the RRVF was supposed to get Toby Keith, but health problems have kept the country star off the road.

“It doesn’t get much bigger than Tim McGraw,” Cashman says. “He sings. He acts. He’s as big as it gets.”

The last time Tim McGraw played the Red River Valley Fair was in 1998 and he’d just released “One of These Days,” his 14th Top 10 country hit.

If he was a bona fide star then, now, 24 years later, he’s a legend. Since then he has continued his dominance of country music radio with 38 more Top 10 hits, and more awards than he could fit under his wide-brimmed hat. In 2016 he headlined WE Fest and in 2017, he and his wife, singer Faith Hill, played the Fargodome.

Faith Hill and Tim McGraw perform Aug. 24, 2017, at the Fargodome during their Soul 2 Soul Tour. Forum file photo
Faith Hill and Tim McGraw perform Aug. 24, 2017, at the Fargodome during their Soul 2 Soul Tour.
Forum file photo

Cashman says country shows always do best. McGraw, Walker Hayes, Neal McCoy and double bill of Parmalee and Maddie & Tae will bring a Nashville flair this year. Rock concerts are also a big draw, with Tesla and Vixen playing July 12 and Dokken, Winger, Lita Ford, Sweet and SteelHeart closing out the fair on July 17. Still, he didn’t want the lineup to be all twang and bang.

“We wanted diversity and to have a little bit of everything,” he says, noting pop singer and TikTok star Jason Derulo and contemporary Christian act for King & Country. He adds that he wanted to bring in a kid-friendly concert and a stand-up comedian.

“Our goal was to put the fair on the map and make people not want to miss it,” he says.

While he’s counting on McGraw to sell 13,000 tickets, he’s hoping the other shows will draw 4,000 fans each.

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McCoy’s show on July 13 is the only concert free with gate admission this year as a way of honoring past and present members of the armed services.

Jason Derulo.jpg
Pop singer Jason Derulo.
Contributed / Special to The Forum

“If people don’t come out and support these concerts, we won’t continue to do them,” he says.

While the fair is a nonprofit organization, the concerts have to be run like a business.

“We break even on concerts if we’re lucky,” he says, noting that tickets usually just cover the artists and production costs.

While this year’s fair hasn’t even opened yet, he already has offers in for 2023 and is hoping to announce one big show before McGraw takes the stage Saturday and to announce the full lineup by the end of the year.

He says people keep asking for Garth Brooks, but, “That will never happen.”

He won’t say what acts he has offers in for, but says next year’s lineup will be even more exciting as the board has extended his budget to $2.6 million.

“The caliber of acts will be that much better,” he says.

If you go

What: Red River Valley Fair
When: Friday, July 9, through July 17
Where: Red River Valley Fairgrounds, West Fargo
Info: https://www.redrivervalleyfair.com

Grandstand entertainment

  • July 8: 3 Doors Down ($30)
  • July 9: Tim McGraw ($55 to $85)
  • July 10: Walker Hayes ($35)
  • July 11: Monster Trucks ($12 to $20)
  • July 12: Tesla and Vixen ($35)
  • July 13: Neal McCoy (free with gate admission)
  • July 14: for King & Country ($30)
  • July 15: Jason Derulo ($40)
  • July 16: Parmalee, Maddie & Tae and Larry Fleet ($35)
  • July 17: Rock the Valley with Dokken & Lynch Reunion Tour, Wnger, Lita Ford, Sweet and Steelheart ($35)

Gates open at 6 p.m. and shows start at 8 p.m. (except Tim McGraw, gates at 5 p.m.); monster trucks gate at 5:30 p.m. and show at 7:30 p.m.; and Rock the Valley, gates at 1 p.m. and music at 2 p.m.

For 20 years John Lamb has covered art, entertainment and lifestyle stories in the area for The Forum.
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